With all the frenetic activity associated with the IPL my attention has been diverted to the pleasures of Test match cricket. Yes, pleasures for as a bit of an old timer, as a traditionalist who grew up on a staple diet of five day matches that sometimes did not produce a result even after 30 hours of play I have really enjoyed the fare served out in the longer version of the game even as I savour the happenings in cricket’s newest and shortest format.
The leisurely proceedings, players in white, day cricket and the red ball have provided a refreshingly different scenario from the surfeit of slam bang cricket and taken me on a trip down memory lane. There is an undying charm about Test cricket that still makes it the highest art form associated with this great game.
The heightened suspense spread over five days, the fluctuating fortunes and the fact that bowlers are trying to take wickets and not restrict the runs are a few of the factors that one relishes. Ask any budding cricketer and with all the many attractions associated with the shorter versions of the game, he will say his ultimate aim is to play Test cricket.
A cricketer who shines only in limited overs cricket will still lament the fact that he didn’t play Test matches. Ultimately it is the Test record of a player that stands the test of time and is set as a yardstick not the figures in Fifty50 or Twenty20 however impressive the latter may be.
Certainly the two match series between England and Sri Lanka provided plenty to savour for the serious follower of the game for whom cricket is not just the kind of entertainment that Twenty20 provides but something more. The batting of Kevin Petersen, Jonathan Trott and Mahela Jayawardene and the bowling of James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Rangana Herath were symbolic of the highest art form that only Test cricket can unfold.
I was particularly pleased with the form displayed by Pietersen. As an unabashed admirer of his swashbuckling approach to batsmanship since I first saw him take on any bowling head on in the early years of the new millennium, it was heartwarming to see him treat the bowlers with the kind of disdain and contempt that only Virender Sehwag can emulate among contemporary batsmen. Maybe Chris Gayle can be added to the list but the West Indian left hander doesn’t have the kind of figures that stand against the names of Sehwag and Pietersen.
Speaking of figures, the stats associated with Sehwag and Pietersen are remarkably similar as are their batting styles. In 96 Tests the Indian has hit 22 hundreds and 32 half centuries at a strike rate of 82 and an average of 50. In 245 ODIs Sehwag has got 15 hundreds and 37 half centuries at an average of 35 and a strike rate of 104. In first class cricket where he averages 49 Sehwag has 36 hundreds and 50 half centuries in 160 matches.
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Now consider Pietersen’s figures and the similarities are astonishing. In 83 Tests he has hit 20 hundreds at an average of 49 and a strike rate of almost 63. He has played roughly half the number of ODIs that Sehwag has figured in (127) but has notched up nine hundreds and 23 half centuries at an average of almost 42 and a strike rate of nearly 87. In first class cricket where he averages almost 49, Pietersen has run up 42 hundreds and 57 half centuries from 182 matches.
It’s not just the figures that are similar. Their careers too have had ups and downs. Sehwag has in fact been dropped after going through a lean patch midway through his career but fought back with typical pugnacity. Pietersen while not being axed since making his international debut in2004 has had his detractors who have lambasted his irresponsible approach - a criticism that has been hurled at Sehwag too. Like Sehwag, Pietersen has had lapses of form - not unusual for players with a buccaneering approach.
But then it is players like Sehwag and Pietersen who breath life into cricket. The best moments in the game are provided by players who think there are some risks worth taking. They have got to be today’s dream pair. If Pietersen and Sehwag batted together they would empty bars and have TV viewers riveted to the action aplenty in the middle.
The two in tandem would be the ultimate in razzle dazzle entertainment with their inimitable brand of pyrotechnics. No ground would be too big for their hits that could see the ball sail into the stratosphere. It would not just be aggressive batting with runs being notched up at a quick pace.
There will also be the kind of innovation that crowd pleasers like Sehwag and Pietersen bring to the game. And so while there will be Sehwag’s "Upar cut" there will also be Pietersen’s switch hit. The prospect of the two batting together for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL is something to whet the appetite of even the most staid cricket fan.